How do I explain what it’s like to not have a gender? How can I describe something that has been a part of me for my entire life, the very cornerstone of who I am, yet something I denied for so long? I don’t know what it feels like to have a gender so, how can I describe what it feels like to not have one?
I used to have to remind myself on an almost daily basis that I was a woman. Trying to make the label fit like trying to squeeze into a shirt that’s too tight. That’s what it was like for me to try to be a woman – wearing a shirt you can physically fit on your body but is much too tight to wear. I could get the label of woman on but, it was really fucking uncomfortable. My movement was restricted and it was hard for me to breathe. I went through my days trying to not bust open the seams. I had to be careful about everything I did because I didn’t want to bring too much attention to myself. I worked hard to hide my real self, instead, emphasizing the version of myself that I had groomed for display. Everything I did went into creating the perfect persona to show people.
The ever constricting shirt I was trapped in had a very bright pattern to distract everyone from how ill-fitting it was. I played small and didn’t do the things I wanted to do, out of fear that this disguise would begin to fray and fall away. I didn’t speak up when something was wrong. I didn’t let myself have feelings. I didn’t advocate for myself. Everything was filtered through this damn too fucking small shirt. I was less confident, felt less worthy, acted less bold, I was less…ME. I tried really hard to relate to women and be one of them, this shirt that was squeezed on me was the latest style and at the height of fashion, why couldn’t I love it!?? Why wouldn’t it fit??
I did a lot of things to try to make that damn shirt fit. I tried it in different styles, some more feminine and some more masculine, all just as restricting. I tried to numb myself by drinking and partying and doing anything I could to try to forget that this shirt. Was. Suffocating. Me. I tried making myself smaller so it might fit but, no matter how small I got, that damn shirt was always 2 sizes smaller than I was.
One day the shirt shrunk too small to even squeeze on my body. So I just left it off. In doing so, I was able to simply be myself as I was meant to be. I was finally able to use my voice because my chest could expand and let air in my lungs. I was able to stand up tall for myself and others because I no longer had to hunch my shoulders to make them fit in that damn shirt. I was able to smile knowing that my real self, the one I’ve been hiding all of these years, is so much cooler and loving and kind than the curated display version of myself. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and catch a glimpse of myself, just myself with nothing covering me to obscure who I am, and wonder if I’m really amazing person who is staring back at me.
When you’ve finally broken free from that sort of restriction and feel freedom for the first time in your life, it’s completely normal to question that. Is this real? Am I actually this confident person who is, at last, learning who they truly are?
I ask myself on a semi regular basis if I’m really the kind of person who lives without a shirt; am I really genderless? When I think back to when I was trying to make it all fit – to how I felt having to declare my womanhood over and over again in order for people to accept that I was in the right bathroom. To how I very rarely date women who identify as lesbians because I’d much rather be with someone who wants ME not someone who wants my perceived gender. I think back to how even being in women’s spaces with people who love me unconditionally still left me feeling like a complete outsider and an imposter. When I think of those things and hundreds of other little things that I’ve contorted and twisted and hid about myself for almost 40 years, I know that this is real and there is zero doubt in my mind:
I have no gender.
And it feels like actual life.